#b#Fight Addiction On All Fronts#/B#

We are pleased to see Governor Christie expand on the growing problem of opiate addiction in his recent State of the State Address. His proposals for improving treatment and making it more accessible are important steps forward. We also applaud the Governor’s efforts to equip law enforcement officials and other first responders with Narcan, a drug which, if taken in, time can prevent accidental deaths from overdoses of painkillers or heroin.

It is critical, however, to couple these steps with measures that prevent opiate addiction from occurring in the first place by attacking the problem at its source; namely, the over-prescribing of opiate-based prescription drugs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported a three-fold increase in the number of prescriptions issued for opiate-based painkillers, such as Vicadin, as well as a major step-up in dosage over the past 20 years. Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions in 2012 alone. Even physicians agree that this is too many. In a recent national poll conducted by the John Hopkins School of Public Health, 85 percent of doctors say opiate-based painkillers are over-used.

Further, it has been well-documented that some people when they can no longer get access to prescription painkillers feed their addiction by turning to heroin. Heroin is opiate-based, and as a result works on the same brain receptors. In other words, prescription opiates are often a gateway to heroin addiction. The State Commission on Investigation (SCI) report, “Scenes from an Epidemic,” richly describes this downward spiral.

The costs in lost and ruined lives from what the CDC refers to as a “national epidemic” of opiate addiction continue to rise. Drug overdoses are the number one cause of accidental death in New Jersey and the United States, Nearly 20,000 people died from an overdose of opiates in 2010 nationally — nearly 17,000 from prescription painkillers and an additional 3,000 from heroin. It is time for effective steps aimed at prevention. This requires addressing the over-prescribing of prescription painkillers and the under-informing of patients about the risks of this medication and possible alternatives.

There is legislation moving through the legislature that does exactly that. Senator Loretta Weinberg(D-37) and Senator Joe Vitale (D-19) have put forward two essential proposed laws to arm patients and doctors with the essential information required to prevent opiate addiction. The first law (S 2366) provides adult patients and parents of younger patients with the critical information they need to make an informed decision about whether to take an opiate-based prescription pain-killer or use a non-addictive alternative. From the harm that too many of our children and families have experienced because a teenager becomes addicted to opiates, we know how important providing this knowledge can be.

The second bill (Senate Committee Substitute 1998) would give the State’s Prescription Monitoring Program real teeth by requiring all doctors to participate. The current voluntary approach has not been effective. This legislaion ensures that doctors check a data base to identify patients who are doctor-shopping to feed their addiction.

The patient notification legislation recently passed the State Senate by a 36 to 1 margin. We are expecting a similar result on the proposed law to strengthen prescription monitoring.

Still, there is a long way to go before final passage and it will require all of us to make our voices heard. While many individual doctors recognize the need, the Medical Society of NJ has not yet voiced its support of these bills. The refusal to support these bills in light of the fact that it is strongly opposing legislation allowing New Jersey optometrists to continue to prescribe prescription painkillers is odd.

To counter the potential opposition of the Medical Society and any other special interests, it is particularly important for people to communicate with their Assembly members. We look forward to an open and fair discussion of this legislation in the Assembly Health Committee Chaired by Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-7) soon.

These two proposed laws by Senators Weinberg and Vitale are essential to a comprehensive approach to preventing opiate abuse in New Jersey. Treatment after the fact is still important, but because of the brain changes caused by opiate addiction, it is a hard, difficult, and sometimes impassable road to recovery for too many. Treatment remains a hit or miss proposition. Preventing addiction in the first place is critical to saving lives and these two bills will equip families and the medical community with the tools they need to do so.

Elaine and Steve Pozycki

The Pozyckis, residents of Peapack, are board members of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey with Elaine serving as co-chair. Steve Pozycki is the founder and CEO of SJP Properties, developer of the 7-9 Roszel Road office complex, among many others.

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